West Side Story Is a Triumph for Steven Spielberg’s First Musical (Review)

Credit: 20th Century Studios

West Side Story is a 1961 musical film that brought us iconic songs like “I Feel Pretty,” “America” and “Tonight.” It has been referenced in entertainment including Anger Management, The Simpsons, and more. 60 years later, Steven Spielberg is taking us back into the world of New York City where a war with the Jets and Sharks is about to ignite. This results in an uncompromising and grounded film that features awe-inspiring song and dance numbers.

The modern Romeo and Juliet story has Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ansel Elgort as Tony falling for each other. Their love will be put to the test as each is linked to a rival street gang. Maria is the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Puerto Rican street gang, the Sharks. Tony is a close friend of Riff, the leader of the Jets. Because of their love for each other, it creates more drama between the two gangs that will change their lives forever.

Why Another West Side Story Musical

So why do another West Side Story musical? The film doesn’t really deviate from the songs and stories from the original film and play. However, it gives audiences an updated version with a more realistic take. The rival street gangs are tougher and dangerous. The Jets still dance in their musical numbers, but it doesn’t look as cheesy as the original. Additionally, the film is bigger in scope, and the dialogue sounds convincing. There are plenty of wide shots of New York City and huge sets filled with dancers, extras, cars, and background buildings that make the world feel more lively.

Spanish Is Embraced

The film features plenty of Spanish dialogue, and it will be controversial since English subtitles are excluded. Audiences who don’t understand Spanish will have a harder time following the scenes. As someone who isn’t fluent in Spanish, I actually liked how the filmmakers pulled it off. The message still comes out across, especially when you watch the scenes with them and see the performance on their faces. It also helps amplify the tension when the non-Spanish speakers would tell the Spanish speakers to speak English.

The Cast

The film has a large ensemble cast, and the ones who really stand out are Ariana DeBose as Anita and Rachel Zegler as Maria. Zegler is a newcomer who definitely has a bright future ahead of her, and DeBose gives an emotional performance as Bernardo’s girlfriend. Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the classic movie, radiates as Valentina, a new character who takes the spot of the Doc. The actors in the Jets and Sharks all give fine performances. As for Elgort, I wished that he was able to bring more charm to Tony.

Final Reaction

West Side Story is a triumph for Steven Spielberg’s first musical, and the world of the Jets and Sharks is more grounded and tense. Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose absolutely shine, with David Alverez and Mike Faist giving solid performances as the leaders of the Sharks and Jets, respectively. The music, dancing, and choreography are breathtaking, and the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is remarkable, taking you into a past that’s filled with hope and loss.

Score: 4.5/5 Atoms

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